Lanny Davis ’67 LAW ’70 has advised and represented some controversial clients, including the likes of Harvey Weinstein. He is now once again in the spotlight, this time for defending Michael Cohen — President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer — who on Aug. 21 pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, as well as tax evasion and bank fraud.
At Yale, Davis contributed to the Yale Law Journal, served as chairman of the News and belonged to the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He began his political career by running for Congress in Maryland’s 8th congressional district in 1976 as a Democrat and later served three terms on the Democratic National Committee, from 1980 to 1992. In 1996, he joined the Clinton White House as a special counsel to the president and remained there until 1998.
In 2005, then-President George W. Bush ’68 appointed him to serve as the only Democrat on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, from which Davis resigned in 2007.
He has since worked with a plethora of individual clients and companies, including Equatorial Guinea’s longtime dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, and — as Davis now publicly claims —the U.S. State Department as a part of a covert plan to resolve political tension in the Ivory Coast. The latter job brought Davis into intimate contact with former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, who was taken into custody by the International Criminal Court in 2011.
Davis could not be reached for comment.
On his personal website, Davis says that what he does for a living today is “crisis management.”
“People ask me, am I sorry that I defend people that are in trouble having a hard time getting the facts out? No. Is that a controversial line of work? Yes,” the website says. “But I think I have the ability to get facts out and do it successfully. It means sometimes I’m part of the controversy because I’m trying to help.”
Cohen, often referred to as Trump’s “fixer,” hired Davis in early July, after dropping his former lawyers in mid-June.
Davis said that he decided to take the job after Cohen insisted in an interview with ABC News that his loyalty was with his “family and country first,” not with President Trump.
“Why is my representing [Michael Cohen] as attorney of such high interest?” Davis tweeted on July 8. “Not about me. It’s about a nation’s yearning for truth. And Michael Cohen has said it’s time for him to speak the truth and put his family and Country first. I am glad to help him.”
After joining Cohen’s team, Davis made multiple appearances on TV shows publicly defending his client. Davis has criticized Trump and his current lawyer, describing their strategy as “flawed” in a July 21 tweet. He also provided CNN with a secret tape of Cohen and Trump discussing the possibility of buying the story of a woman who alleged that she had an affair with the president.
Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to paying hush money to two women “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office … for the principal purpose of influencing the [2016 presidential] election.”
The specific women were not named in the court documents. But, a porn star who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model named Karen McDougal had already gone public about their sexual encounters with the president before the court proceedings. Cohen paid the former $130,000 and facilitated the payment of $150,00o to the latter to prevent them from telling their stories to the public before the election.
After the plea, Davis said that Cohen’s testimony clearly implicated Trump in the crimes.
“Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election,” he tweeted. “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
Cohen received his law degree from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in 1991.
Anastasiia Posnova | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, August 24: This version of the article has been updated to reflect public statements that Lanny Davis has made in the past regarding the nature of his relationship with the former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo.